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Questions. Compressing and Recording level.
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 Posted: Sat Dec 4th, 2010 09:12 pm
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PatrickReedy
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Hey guys,

I was wondering. Do you guy's use a compressor for your guitar tracks? I know they work wonders for vocals.

Also what is a good Db level to record tracks with? Maybe you get certain levels for certain kinds of tracks.

Thanks,

Pat



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 Posted: Sun Dec 5th, 2010 12:03 am
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Sunburst
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Gidday Pat, Compressors are a regular effect on guitars in two separate ways.  Firstly, the guitarist may have a compressor pedal in the fx rack.  It's used to flatten off the dynamics of the guitar sound, which has a very sharp attack and a very quick decay.  Consequently, the compressor evens out the sound of the note over its length.  Guitar compressor pedals are frequently used to give an apparent increase in the sustain of the note, mainly because they cut in and amplify the decaying note making it seem to sustain longer.  Most of the heavier rock guitar sounds are achieved by combining a compressor feeding a distortion unit giving that solid distorted note that we're all used to.

As far as recording goes, here's a quote from Bill Gibson's book "Compressors, Limiters, Expanders and Gates" which sums up the situation pretty well: It's very common to use a compressor on an electric guitar. Most guitars have a very wide dynamic range and many instruments have uneven string volumes due to sub-standard adjustment of the pick-ups and string height. A compressor is what gives a guitar that smooth always-in-your-face sound.

In practice, I may have a hardware compressor hooked up as part of the overall guitar sound I'm using before recording anything.  Then after I've recorded, I'm more than likely to plug-in a compressor on the recorded track to even the sound out.

As far as recording volumes go, my experience is that by the time I've set up the guitar with whatever fx I want, tone adjustments and what not, every time requires a different level setting.  It's really just a matter of tweaking it so that you maintain the level below the 0db clipping point.  In practice, given the dynamics of the guitar, that usually means an average meter reading between -3dB and -6db depending on the style of guitar you're playing.  Bear in mind that I usually di the guitar through an amp modeller to avoid that bane of the home studio - the kids busting in just as you're nailing that riff you've worked so hard at for so long and screaming "Dad - I'm bored".  Aaarrghhh, might as well just delete that one. Cheers Sunburst

Last edited on Sun Dec 5th, 2010 12:08 am by Sunburst



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 Posted: Sun Dec 5th, 2010 02:22 am
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PatrickReedy
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Thanks Sunburst! You really helped me out alot there. I do have another question though. By "hardware Compressor" does that mean, for instance, the compressor on my Fostex Multi-Track Recorder? Because I have one on my Fostex and I have a Compressor mounted in my rack.

I would say 90% of the time I am using my acoustic guitar. Does that change anything?

Thanks again Sunburst!!!

P.S We joined on the same day! How awesome is that?



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 Posted: Sun Dec 5th, 2010 10:42 pm
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Sunburst
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You got it Pat - a hardware compressor is anything that sits in a box and has a power cord of one form or another, such as the one in your Fostex or in your rack.  The distinction of hardware is a relatively new one, primarily as a result of the numerous software plug-in compressors that you can now get to load into your recording software to perform the same basic task as the boxes filled with electronic bits.  Another type of hardware compressor, and one I had in mind when talking about setting up the guitar sound before recording, is the time honoured stomp box version, such as the Boss Compressor Sustainer pedal, which seems to be a staple part of many a good guitarist's arsenal.

As far as recording acoustic guitars, that's a slightly different matter.  I've never fed an acoustic guitar through a compressor before recording, though there is absolutely no reason why it can't be done.  Basically, compression on acoustic guitars for me is a post-record task, that is, I use a software compressor loaded into the acoustic guitar track.  Like all processing, it really comes down to the type of sound you're dealing with.  If the acoustic guitar is primarily strumming, then the compressor will even out the sound to make sure it doesn't get masked in the overall mix - bring it a bit forward in the mix if you like without having to increase the volume.  If it's a arpeggiated guitar part or an acoustic solo, then some gentle compression to help the notes 'ring' true in the mix is incredibly useful and seems to give the guitar more body.

Somewhere in my kit of generally useless, but occasionally useful information, I have some notes I took from a range of books covering the use of compression, including common settings for the major parameters of threshold, knee, attack, release and ratio.  If you're interested I can have a ferret around and find them for you.

Just had a listen to your song 'Everything' - probanly should have done that before I replied, but what the heck.  Nice song Patrick - genuine warm honest and delightfully understated in the arrangement.  The vocals are excellent - I really like the edge to your voice which gives the song a little bite, rather than sounding syrupy.  Now back to the issue of compression.  A little compression on the guitar before the reverb unit would have done a couple of things for you.  First, there's a few times that you can hear the lower strings 'twang' a bit - this is probably because they push the recording level up quite high just after they've been hit - the compressor would have pulled that level down quickly and boosted a little at the end, just smoothing out the acoustic sound and giving it body.  I also would have put the guitar track through some equalisation before sending it to the reverb, just to ease off some of the highs and build a bit of the body back in that often gets lost in recording.  The highs can get a little 'tinny' when fed into a reverb, mainly because of the psycho-acoustic effect that reverb has.

Regards Sunburst

PS us newbies need to stick together in case there's some bullies out there in cyber-land (lol).


Last edited on Sun Dec 5th, 2010 11:05 pm by Sunburst



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 Posted: Mon Dec 6th, 2010 08:50 pm
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PatrickReedy
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Hey thanks Sunburst! You really cleared up alot for me! And thanks for the song compliments. It really means alot to me. And yes we do need to stick together =)



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 Posted: Fri May 27th, 2011 04:42 am
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Sami
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OK, I have a silly question.  Why not always add the compression after recording.  It seems that would give maximum flexibility in the mix.

Also, when we record the lead guitar part, we run it through a guitar pedal which adds all sorts of amp effects including reverb and such.  Would it not be better to record the clean guitar in case it needs to be re-amp'ed in the mix or maybe have the reverb adjusted so it sits better in the mix?

-Sami



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 Posted: Sun Jun 5th, 2011 11:55 pm
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Sunburst
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Gidday Sami

Finally have a chance to reply - thanks for being patient.  I'd say that there are very few guitar tracks that don't have some degree of compression added to them during the mix down stage - the aim of the compression is to even out the sound of the guitar which can have a wide dynamic range so that it doesn't sort of fade in and out of the mix as the dynamics of playing change.  In essence, compression is one of the major techniques used to combat the 'masking' effect, whereby other instruments in the mix mask the sound of the guitar at certain points, making it either hard to hear or completely inaudible.

As far as recording the guitar 'clean' and adding all the extras after the track is recorded, that's something which has really only become possible with the development of computer based recording which now offers an immense range of possibilities for modifying sound after its been recorded through the use of plug-ins.  Back in the days when things went down onto tape, there was no easy way of adding the tonal characteristics of an amp or fx pedal post recording, so it's a fairly new technique that can be employed.

In practical terms, there is absolutely no reason now why guitar tracks can't be recorded completely clean and then modified with amp simulations and plug-in fx after recording.  But consider this - most guitarists, like myself, have a definite sound in their mind when they're playing a piece, a sound that they've probably tweaked and played with over a period of time to get just right.  It will involve various settings on the amp and a range of fx pedals that they use.  All these things effect the way the guitarist actually plays - for example, a set-up that uses a compression/sustain pedal, fed through an overdrive unit, then a delay unit and from there into an amp with its own settings and reverb, delivers a particular sound to the guitarists ears that he or she uses to help them play the song.  Now take all that away and ask them to record it completely clean and you'll find that most guitarists will find it quite difficult to put down a good recording when all they're hearing in the monitors is a clean, dry sound.

Also, frequently a key component of a guitarists overall sound is the amplifier they use and, more importantly, how they use that amplifier - something which needs to be recorded if you're going to capture the guitarists real sound.  This is why very few guitar parts are actually recorded clean.

There is a trick you can use, though, provided you've got the gear to do it.  It involves recording one track with everything that the guitarist would normally use on it, and simultaneously recording a completely clean track.  To do this you need to either: take the signal from the guitar and feed it to sub-mixer which can give you two outputs, one which can be fed direct to the recording equipment, and another which can be routed through the guitarists normal rig and then into the recording equipment.  The guitarist then hears the sound he or she is used to when recording, while a completely clean track is also recorded simultaneously.  The other way of doing it is to use one of the modern amp simulation/multi-effects units that has a facility to configure its outputs so that one channel is clean and the other carries the modified sound.  I use the latter technique sometimes when I haven't settled on a final guitar sound and want to muck about with it in the mix.

Ultimately, my view is that there is absolutely no right or wrong way to go about recording the guitar - clean and dry or with all effects on it.  My personal preference is to set up the guitar sound using the equipment that I'm used to and then record it and I find that in most cases this works well.  Occasionally I have to go back to the drawing board because the guitar doesn't sound right when mixed in with the other instruments in a recording, but I find that is more likely to be because I made a fundamental error of judgement in choosing a sound (eg overdriven rather than clean and bright) rather than the sound wasn't tweaked right.

Sunburst



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 Posted: Mon Jun 6th, 2011 05:08 am
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Sami
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Super.  Very useful.  Very much appreciated.  -Sami



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 Posted: Tue Jan 31st, 2012 02:14 am
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PatrickReedy
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Yea. When I first posted this I was using a Fostex VF160 to record. I still use it. But I then transfer my tracks into a DAW. I wasn't familiar with plug ins and all that lingo. When I record my tracks I do it dry now. Even the vocals. Then do all the cool stuff with Reaper.



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 Posted: Tue Jan 29th, 2013 11:25 am
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Compression can be essential for getting a professional sounding dynamic, but should be used carefully.
The wrong settings can kill the guitar.

Sometimes the guitar part will need lots of compression, high ratios, and at others you may only need to control the peaks.
Often compression is added at all stages; a little while tracking so you get levels going in, a little in the mix probably with extra distortion of some sort (distortion = compression), compression on a group track pulling a few guitars together and then yet more as on the entire track.

Compression is probably the single most difficult concept to understand in music production, get it right and a track will sing, get it wrong and it'll sound deader than an old sofa left out in the rain.



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 Posted: Mon Feb 11th, 2013 02:06 pm
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The Taxed
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My use of compression has been growing over the years as I've become more comfortable with its use and more aware of the need for it. I use a little on just about everything (other than digital synthesizer tracks - unless the levels are low for some reason) eventually during the mixing and mastering process. The only thing I'll typically compress on input though is bass. Some tracks get compressed and compressed again. I don't add at lot to the mix as a whole, but a db or 2 is common there.

The key for me was to get a compressor that I liked (DBX 166XL) and learn to use it. Starting with the recommended settings for instruments as a guidline and proceed from there. If I were making any money from this I'd probably invest in a pro level outboard compressor because this is a tool that gets used a lot. For now though the DBX166 does fine for me and can be had for around $200. I'll also use some software compressors when convenient and have used the compression that comes built in to the Tascam 2488, but I use the DBX166 when I can as I know its setting and am comfortable with its levels.

The more you come to understand compression, the more your appreciation for good input levels will grow along with it. The idea for me is to know when you need some, but try to make in as unnecessary as you can while tracking.

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